We'll Always Remember

Author's Notes: Thanks to Brooke who was, as always, a great beta and gave me some great advice in this chapter. To Taylor who, in her own words, is "living vicariously through me when it comes to ER fic." Thank you for the medical advice in this chapter too! To Sarah (ceb) for some other medical queries I had, to Helen (golden rainbow) and everyone else who I've moaned incessantly to about writer's block. Love you guys! Umm and I guess (as I've said this to several people) another couple of thank you's, even though they'll never read this – to Noah and Maura for making their characters so convincing that there have been moments where this story has practically written itself.

Disclaimer: Don't own 'em. Don't claim to own 'em. End of story.

Characters: John Carter/Abby Lockhart (as I said, kudos to Noah Wyle and Maura Tierney for the performances they give)

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Nothing after "The Letter"/"On The Beach". Forget all about the events of "Lockdown," the whole of season 9 and any spoilers or episodes of season10 (which I'm not spoiled for anyway)

Summary: the tale of a friendship progressing into something much more, told through a series of poignant firsts charting discoveries about each other, their relationship...and love.

Chapter 8: New Traditions

Abby's POV (section in italics in the middle = 3rd person)

There's something about early mornings in the ER that doesn't seem to agree with me. Even more so today…I'm finding it particularly hard to put a smile on my face and at least pretend to be remotely cheerful.

I flick through the charts, selecting one at random before searching for a pen.

'You might want to avoid the guy in exam two Ab. Not a very pretty smell' Susan comments, giving me a wry smile as she leans on the desk next to me.

'I'll bear that in mind'

'Oh, I meant to ask. How's Carter doing?' she enquires, gesturing to the date I've just written at the top of my chart. I stare at it for a moment, glancing up at her and giving a slight shrug, before focusing back on the chart.

I guess today's going to be like this.

'He's…' I pause, considering what my answer actually is. 'I don't know Susan, I really don't. This morning I…all I really wanted to do was hug him.'

'Sounds like exactly what he needs. He'll talk, when he's ready…and you'll be there. In the meantime you'll just have to let him deal with today in his own way'

'I know you're right, but it's still frustrating' I comment, shrugging my shoulders slightly. She smiles, squeezing my shoulder gently before lifting a couple more charts out of the rack.

'You'll figure something out'

I giver her a slight smile in return, before heading off to exam two. Pushing my way though the door, I vow to put all thoughts of John and Valentine's Day out of my head.

'Mr…Jackson? My name's Abby. You've…hurt your arm, I see?'

'Bloody Dave, wouldn't leave without a fight' he slurs, flashing what appears to be a drunken smile in my direction.

'You got that from a fight?'

'Yeah' he mutters defensively. 'I…fell on some broken glass'

'Right. Have you been drinking Mr Jackson?' I ask wearily, making some notes on the chart.

'I was at a party' he counters sarcastically.

'I assumed as much. Well I'm going to get a doctor to come through, and then we'll send you up to x-ray before suturing that cut. It shouldn't be too long.' I walk out; attempting to conceal my sigh before I'm at least halfway thought the door. 'Susan!' I call, waving the chart in her direction. 'Drunk guy in exam two, fell on broken glass.'

'Nice drunk or nasty drunk?'

'Sarcastic. Full of himself. Irritating as hell. You get the picture'

'Lovely! Thanks Abby'

'Anytime Suze'

I crouch down to grab a suture kit; my thoughts not really on the whole work thing, if I'm completely honest. I give a gentle push on the floor as I straighten up…

And come face to face with him walking out of the bathroom. He comes to a halt and my eyes are instantly drawn to the almost haunting expression in his eyes. I wish I knew the right words to say. I wish there was something that would make it all vanish…

And more than anything, I wish I could just hold him and never let go.

Funny, I think Weaver might have a problem with that though.

Instead, I settle for reaching out a hand to him, and offering a small smile when he grasps it in his. I take a step closer to him and rest my other hand on his side.

'I just wish everyone would stop asking how I'm holding up' he eventually says softly, shaking his head slightly.

'John…'

'Its okay. You're the exception.' He interrupts me, resting a hand on my back. 'I just hate feeling that people are stopping their conversations because I walk into the room'

'It's a crappy day' I offer, squeezing his hand tighter. 'Maybe you should have taken up Weaver's offer of the day off'

'I'm beginning to think you're right.'

'Look I gotta go help Susan…' I say reluctantly, holding up the forgotten suture kit in my hand. 'But come find me…you know…'

'I know. I might have to take you up on that'

'Anytime' I whisper, resting my head on his shoulder. I know if we stay here any longer then I'll cry, which he really doesn't need right now, so I lift my head and turn slightly, fingers still linked with his.

A couple of small steps on my behalf lead to our arms being stretched out, and I reluctantly slide my fingers from his grasp, maintaining eye contact for a lingering second before turning away and attempting to turn my thoughts back to the patient.

Damn, today's hard…

So much harder than I thought.

'Okay Mr Jackson I'm going to give you a local anaesthetic before Dr Lewis comes in. It'll numb the area so you shouldn't feel any pain when she sutures that cut' Abby recites, removing the needle from its plastic wrapping, her mind not entirely on the job.

'No needles' he slurs, reaching out to grab her wrist, spinning her to look at him. Abby shakes her hand away, slightly uncomfortable with the situation.

'It's only a small injection and trust me, you wouldn't want the procedure without it' she replies, slightly irritated as she picks the needle back up off the tray.

'No needles' he insists more forcefully, lifting himself into the most secure of sitting positions that someone who's consumed immeasurable amounts of alcohol can be in.

'I'm sure you can handle an injection Mr Jackson. It'll take a few seconds, that's all.' Abby insists, rolling her eyes. 'Now if you'd just keep your arm still for me'

'I mean it! I won't let you do it' he yells, standing up now, towering over Abby's petite frame.

'Please just sit down Mr Jackson, getting angry won't do anyone any good' she replies calmly, releasing a tiny bit of fluid from the needle in a long since perfected act of preparation as she waits for him to sit down.

'Get rid of that needle!' in a fit of anger, he knocks the needle from Abby's hand, and watches it land on the suture tray just behind the nurse. Visibly irritated now, Abby turns back to pick up the needle, her lips moving as she mutters some expletive or other under her breath.

Realising her intent, Mr Jackson lashes out, pushing her forcefully away from him, hard enough to send her crashing stomach-first into the nearby gurney. A strangled cry escapes her lips as, reeling from the shock, she collapses onto the floor, hands flying instantly to her stomach as the gurney spins across the room, causing several trays to upturn and send their contents crashing to the ground.

Hearing the cacophony of sounds and deeming them highly abnormal, Susan drops her charts and sets off at a fast-paced jog towards the room, throwing open the doors and taking in the sight before her.

'Security!'

'Abby? Abby can you hear me?'

Ugh.

What the hell?

'Susan?'

'Glad to see you're still with us. Where's the pain?' she asks, her voice persistent as I open my eyes, wincing slightly at the bright lights. Pain…uhh, everywhere Susan?

Specifics. Come on Abby, you're a nurse.

'My…ribs, I think. Went…oww…slamming into the gurney' I manage to get out a semi-coherent sentence, simultaneously deciding that moving is a baaad idea.

Damned patient.

'You didn't lose consciousness did you?'

'No, unfortunately' I deadpan, wincing again at the pain.

'Well you know the score, we'll get you into a room and…I can get Carter to do this if you want, I won't take offence'

'No. Don't tell John' I say, perhaps slightly more forcefully than I meant it to be. 'Sorry' I mutter, to her confused expression. 'Valentines Day. I don't want to make it worse for him than it already is.'

'But leaving it would surely make him more upset when you eventually tell him? Cause you know as well as I do that you can't hide this' she points out…always the voice of reason.

But I can't cope with it all. It sounds selfish, but damnit I think I'm allowed to be a little selfish considering that I was just propelled at full speed into a gurney.

'Its my decision Susan' I reply softly, giving her a look in the hope that she understands.

'Don't blame me if he gets pissed' she counters with a small smile. 'And don't let him blame me, more to the point. But anyway…lets get you sorted' she adds, lifting herself into a crouching position.

'There's not a thing you can do for broken ribs Suze, I know that as well as you'

'Don't…'

'Don't be presumptuous, I know. But hell Susan, I think that it's highly likely' I reply, offering her a smile to let her know I'm not really mad at her.

'This is gunna hurt like hell Abby, are you ready?'

'Sure'

Ready for what exactly? The pain…or Carter's reaction when I can eventually face dealing with him?

'Pain excruciating yet?' Ahh, Susan. I can always count on her to make me feel a hundred times better.

'Remind me to work on your bedside manner at a later date' I mutter dryly. She laughs, taking a seat on the gurney and picking up my chart.

'I see the pain isn't affecting your sense of humour' she quips quickly, noting something on the chart. 'Very good self-diagnosis earlier – to be precise, three broken ribs.' I groan – the prospect of this pain sticking around for a decent amount of time is not something I'm overjoyed about.

'I know the chore. Walking fast will hurt, as will twisting, sitting up, lying down…pretty much everything except being completely still' I recite, eventually laughing at the look on her face.

Crap.

I guess laughing hurts too.

'You forgot laughing' Susan adds helpfully, smiling. 'I guess it's true that medics make the worst patients.' She pauses, before adding 'at least you have an excuse to make Carter wait on you hand and foot!' she stops again, and I catch a slight change in her expression 'Are you sure I can't persuade you to get him in here? Cause I gotta admit I'm a little confused as to the whole secrecy thing'

'It's guilt, I suppose. Guilt and selfishness.' I pause, trying to collate my thoughts into a vaguely understandable collection of words. 'Selfishness because this pain has gotta be what the seventh circle of hell feels like…'

'Nice choice of words' she cuts in with a smile. 'I'll have to remember that one.' I shake my head slightly, before continuing.

'But its also because I can't cope with him being upset as well' I add quietly. 'And that makes me feel guilty, because I shouldn't be thinking of myself. He was the one who got stabbed, and it feels like this makes today all about me, which it shouldn't be'

'He won't blame you…'

'No, but I'll blame myself. All I've been able to think about is that he goes through hell this time every year, and that maybe this year I'd be able to make it a little easier for him…'

'I think the simple fact that you feel like that makes it better for him' she offers, twirling her pen between two fingers as she takes in my sceptical look. 'You gotta work with me here Ab' she adds, slightly frustrated.

'Another thing? That thing I told you earlier about wanting to hug him…well it might kinda…hurt, now?' Ooh. Her face would be a picture right about now. Incredulous would be a fitting description.

'You're priceless. So how's the seventh circle of hell?'

'Getting progressively worse'

'You want something for it?' she asks, concerned, reaching forward to lift up my shirt and study the bruised are. 'Niiice bruise Abby, tops most I've seen'

'Why thank you. I aim to please…and I don't particularly want to be doped up on drugs – a couple of aspirin would be great though?'

'Your wish is my command. Chuny?' she calls, gesturing to her to walk over. 'The patient requires aspirin' she explains with a smile.

'Sure. Are you okay Abby?'

'As long as I don't move it's bearable' I quip, giving Chuny a smile as she leaves. 'Uhh Suze…about the whole John thing'

'Change of heart?' she asks hopefully, turning back to look at me.

'Something like that. Break it to him carefully yeah?' I add, returning her smile. She stands up to leave…

'Kerry, why the hell is Abby's name on the board?' Damnit. Susan turns back to me, a look that can only be interpreted as uh-oh on her face.

'Carter I'm juggling ten patients I can't keep track of your girlfriend's every move too' Kerry's pissed. That doesn't bode well for his mood when he eventually finds out. Susan darts towards the door, ready to dash out and corner Carter when we hear,

'Collision with a gurney thanks to a drunk needle-hater' from the ever-helpful Frank, mouth half full of doughnut no doubt. Susan and I can only watch in silence as John's eyes assess the scene, before starting immediately towards us. Susan stands aside to let him in, giving me a small smile before leaving, pulling the door firmly shut behind her.

'What the hell happened?'

'John, relax' I don't think I've ever seen him this mad. 'The patient just got a little out of control that's all. I'm okay'

'But that shouldn't happen! This damned hospital is too concerned with the number of patients it treats, with its status within the city, rather than the safety of the people who work here'

'Just calm down, please'

'When are they going to stop calling it a risk of the job and actually do something to make sure it isn't a risk of the job anymore? Safety should be a priority, how the hell can we be expected to do a good job when there's the constant threat of…idiots…like him' He's not listening to me…I don't think I've ever really seen him like this before. I mean, I've seen him get mad over the job but never to this extent.

'You're scaring me John'

'And what the hell did he, and all the other violent jerks in this world, think gave him the right to go around attacking people who are trying to help him?'

This isn't John. This isn't the man I know…and I don't think I like it.

'John please! I…'

Owww, crap.

Moving. Is. Not. Good.

I must have let out some kind of cry of pain…not surprising, considering it feels like I've got a thousand knives stabbing into my torso…

Not a good analogy Abby.

But whatever, it looks like I got through to him. I feel him sink into a sitting position next to me, and when I can finally push the pain to the back of my mind enough to look up at him…

It's like I'm looking at a different person.

'It's okay' I whisper. He shakes his head…and he's got that look back, that haunting look.

'What did that…thing…do to you?' he asks quietly.

'Three broken ribs'

'Damnit Abby, I'm a doctor. I should know you're not okay. But I was too caught up in the politics…' Wow…he actually sounds scared. Scared, upset, angry…and I can't help but feel that's all directed at himself.

'I don't know what to say John, except I'm fine. I'll live; I'll be okay. It was a crappy thing to happen, on a crappy day…'

'But you're not okay! You can't be okay with three broken ribs and…' he lifts my chart, studying it incredulously '…no pain medication' his voice dies away to a whisper as I meet his gaze. 'Abby you must be in agony'

'It…hurts like hell, yeah' I reach out, gripping his hand in mine.

'Why haven't you asked for anything?'

'Chuny went to get me some aspirin, she's probably scared to come in though' I reply with a weak laugh.

'I'll go get you some' he decides, standing up and crossing the distance to the door before I have a chance to respond. Accepting the proffered items from Susan, he walks back in, silently handing me the glass of water and pills. I swallow them quickly…knowing all the same that they won't do a hell of a lot to help.

'Sit down'

'Why didn't Susan come and get me?' he asks softly, looking straight at me as he takes a seat.

'Because I asked her not to' I murmur, shaking my head slightly. 'I just…didn't want to upset you. I didn't want this to all be about me'

'Just because it's…Valentine's Day, doesn't mean I stop thinking about you Abby. I wouldn't have thought any worse of you because of this'

'I'm sorry.' He moves his hand to my cheek, his fingers tracing gentle patterns on my skin.

'Don't be sorry. God, Abby…' I start to move towards him, feeling that overwhelming urge to hug him again…

And I've gotta remember the broken ribs.

'Can I take a look?' he asks, as I flop back against the gurney, wincing. I nod and he reaches over, lifting my top gently before letting out a low whistle. 'You must have hit that gurney pretty hard'

'Hard enough' I agree, offering him a small smile as he touches the surrounding area gently. 'Stop being the doctor'

'It's instinct' he replies, eventually offering me a small smile.

'Can you just…take me home?'

I actually don't think I've ever, ever been in anywhere near as much pain as this. It's verging on unbearable now…and I'm beginning to wish I took them up on their offer of stronger pain medication.

I hear the door slam shut behind me…and I've never been so glad to be in his apartment before. At least it was only one flight of stairs – I'd have gladly passed out before making it up my three flights.

I feel his fingertips wipe away the tears I didn't realise had actually reached my cheeks, and I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to focus on something…anything, other than the pain. I eventually release my lip from between my teeth, realising all too late that I was biting hard enough to draw blood. He moves his hand to rest on the back of my neck and kisses my lips gently…

'I know it hurts Ab' he whispers, and I can only nod, leaning my head forward to rest on his shoulder. His hand rubs my back gently…

And have I mentioned lately how much he manages to move me through one little gesture?

'You think you can make it to the bedroom? It'd be decidedly more comfortable.' I answer him with a nod and a slight groan as he slides his arm across my upper back and we begin another slow journey across the apartment.

'I never thought my ribs would be restricting me. You know what? I really hate not being able to do things' I mutter under my breath, forgetting that our close proximity allows him to hear even the quietest of mumbling on my part. I feel him chuckle slightly, and tighten his grip on me.

'Good to know that even whilst suffering agonising pain you can still retain your sense of humour'

'I hate this, I really do'

'I know baby. It'll get better.' He replies, releasing his grip as I consider the immense task of getting from a standing position to lying on the bed. I grit my teeth, mentally counting to three before attempting to make the transition as quick and painless as possible. He chooses that precise moment to finish his assessment of the world through the window and turns round just in time to see what I can only imagine is a slightly contorted expression on my face as I release a burst of air quickly through pursed lips.

'Painful' I mutter, to his concerned look. 'Well, more so than it is when I'm still'

'Do you need anything?' he asks, removing what looks suspiciously like…a bottle of aspirin from his pocket and standing it on the side. He catches my confused look and smiles slightly. 'Susan…uhh, she figured I probably wouldn't have any…lying around. She also said that if you want to take her up on stronger medication she'd sort it out tomorrow. Now…are you sure there's nothing you want?'

'There's nothing I need' I reply, squeezing his hand gently.

'And you're not just lying so I don't worry about you?'

'I'm not lying. It hurts but I'll cope' I insist. Seemingly satisfied, he turns as if to leave, and I'm almost surprised to hear my own voice stopping him.

'I said there was nothing I needed…but there is one thing I want…will you stay? Right here, I mean. I just…' he turns round and smiles, walking over to take a seat on the bed next to me. '…Didn't want to be alone' I finish in a whisper, as he stretches his legs out along the bed. I glance briefly at him before bracing my hands on the bed and moving my whole body slightly in order to lean back against him slightly.

'What are you doing?'

'It hurts less, lying at this angle' I respond. He seems to adjust to this new position fairly quickly, shifting slightly so he can bring his arms around me, linking his hands together and resting them on my legs, rather than touching my stomach. 'John?'

'Mmmhmm?'

'I'm sorry for making your day worse'

'Abby I already…'

'I know what you already said' I cut him off, bringing my hands to rest on his. 'But I also know when you're being economical with the truth. This on top of everything else can't have done wonders for you'

'I'll be fine' he replies softly…damn he can be annoying when he's too concerned about my feelings to give his a fleeting thought.

'Well that's what I told you earlier and you still went off on your security rant' I chide gently, as he takes my hands in his gently. 'We've established that I'm currently experiencing something along the lines of the seventh circle of hell…but that's purely physical pain. I just…if you want to talk…' there's a moment of silence…and if I didn't know him better I'd say he was going to go all quiet and withdrawn on me. Although this is a subject we've never really dwelt on before…

'I…don't really know how to talk about it, to be honest. It's just…most people assume that after three years you start to forget. That the memories sort of fade away and everything gets a bit fuzzy around the edges. That you can no longer feel the pain so clearly sometimes that it's as if it's happening all over again. Maybe you don't…remember them quite as often as you used to, but that doesn't mean that when you do think about it you can't recall every detail'

'Because it's not like a trip to the zoo' I add softly. 'It's something that affects your life from then on. And no matter how hard you might try to repress it…or deal with it and move on, it'll still come back just as clear as when you last thought about it?'

'Precisely. And it's not just Sobriki I can't seem to forget…its Lucy too. I see bits of her in all the med students who come through the ER. She was a good person – she would have made a great doctor, if she hadn't had that chance taken away from her' I hear his shaky intake of breath and I squeeze his hands tighter, turning my head to see the tears shining in his eyes.

'She was a good person. I didn't know her for long, but she struck me as the sort of person who made a difference in someone's life just by being the person she was.' I look back down as his fingers trace an absent pattern on my leg, his thoughts clearly focused back on that day.

'You know I used to think that I wanted to forget, but now I realise that remembering what happened is part of what makes me the doctor I am today'

'It's part of what makes you everything you are today. As a doctor, a colleague, a friend, a boyfriend…there's something unique about you, so maybe remembering isn't so bad' I muse softly, as much to myself as to him.

'Remembering it with someone here is something I can cope with…well, not just with anyone here. But with you I don't feel like I have to be someone I'm not.' I catch the hint of love in his voice, conflicting with the sheer emotion of the day.

'No one can survive keeping everything bottled up. Sometimes you just need to share things – talk, laugh, cry, whatever the memories mean to you.' I twist my head round again, placing a kiss on his cheek, close to the corner of his mouth.

'I just…wish it hadn't been a day that was so widely celebrated. It means that everyone who was at County then…remembers. And the general hype surrounding the day doesn't help – all the build up, how much people talk about it…'

'Sometimes its nice to just be able to remember it privately instead of it being a focus publicly as well?' I ask, his comments reminding me of something I've had planned for a while…which doesn't seem entirely appropriate now, yet it would be even less so if I don't do it tonight. 'John…on the floor just underneath the bed, there's a box. Will you get it for me?' I state softly, smiling at his unspoken consideration as he makes sure not to cause me any more pain by supporting my back with one hand whilst leaning over to retrieve the box.

We settle back into our previous position and he hands me the box, clearly confused. I turn it over a couple of times in my hands.

'What is it?' he asks gently, clearly relaxing slightly.

'I…well I was going to give this to you today, before everything happened. And it seems a little ironic now, but…' I trail off, handing the box back to him. He opens it and slides the item out and I turn my head to watch the expression on his face, knowing all too well what it is.

The idea first came into my head when Susan gave us that set of photos at Christmas and he commented that we should have this one framed. I normally don't like pictures like this – I've always thought it was too public an expression of something private. But he seems to be changing my mind all over the place – as far as I remember it was a pretty special moment…well, as much as kissing under the mistletoe can be!

So anyway, I found a frame and a pretty fitting quotation.

'Here's to new traditions…' he whispers, a slight catch in his voice. So now you see the irony of the whole situation. 'Abby…'

'I know' I stop him, bringing his hand to my lips and kissing the back gently. 'I just…wanted you to know what I was feeling. And it was a little more appropriate when I wrote it'

'You have a knack of rendering me speechless Abby'

'I'm not so good with actually saying things, but I couldn't let today go by without showing you that I'm…not planning on going anywhere for a while…and not just because the actual moving would probably lead me to pass out from the pain.'

I feel his hands rubbing my arms gently, and he brings his head forward to rest on my shoulder. I lift a hand to cup his cheek, and my fingers come into contact with damp skin.

Whoa. I never meant to make him cry.

'There's no one I'd want with me today apart from you' he comments slowly. 'I'm sorry that idiot hurt you today' now it's his turn to bring my fingers to his lips, kissing them gently.

'As long as I've got you taking care of me, it doesn't seem so bad'

'I'll always take care of you' he confirms. 'How's the pain?'

'Pretty bad…and the aspirin's making me a little drowsy' I reply, closing my eyes as he brings his hands to a resting place once again on my legs.

'Go to sleep then, it'll do you good'

'Promise me you'll still be here when I wake up?'

'I'm not going anywhere' he murmurs close to my ear, before I feel him settling back against the pillows.

Maybe I do like the combination of doctor and boyfriend…sleep does seem like the perfect solution right now…

On the other hand, maybe it's just him who makes me feel safe.

A/N 2: Well I hope you enjoyed my latest venture into their little world – I do feel quite bad about hurting Abby – I don't really have any desire to cause her pain! Anyway – the next chapter will come; I just can't guarantee when, what with school and everything taking up more of my time. Just don't give up on me! Feedback would be much appreciated, here or at surrender_something@hotmail.com